You may already be hearing (or saying) that “software is eating the world,” referring to the trend of software becoming more deeply entrenched into the many facets of society—commoditizing, vaporizing and devouring entire industries. Simultaneously there is a renaissance of hardware, where “hardware is the new software,” increasingly open, agile, dynamic, drawing from similar investment and development practices. A much less dramatic, but very interesting, interlacing of those two trends is a recent pair of projects by large companies not normally associated with software or startups at all.
Ford has launched OpenXC, a non-production open source interface, where developers “can design their own plug and play hardware modules, buttons, knobs and simple displays,” and a Software Development Toolkit (SDK) that allows developers to access metrics from a car’s internal network. By building its platform on a mix of Android and Arduino, the initiative is clearly aimed at hackers and developers who have been producing innovative projects with open or hackable hardware. Ford thinks that applications and devices can bubble up from this newly available data and sandbox, translating into new startups and marketable products. One example, shared on GitHub, the online community for open software development, is for a Bluetooth ‘Heads Up Display’ (HUD) showing the driver fuel-consumption information. Opening up hardware to ‘outsource’ innovation has been a tried-and-true approach for web app development for a number of years, but rather new for a car-maker.
In a similar, but perhaps more advanced effort, Nike launched an “incubator program to drive digital sports innovation.” Built in a very similar fashion to the many software and web incubators following in the American seed-accelerator company, Y Combinator’s footsteps, and powered by TechStars, the Nike+ Accelerator hosts 10 companies for three months, giving each $20 000 (USD) to work on products and service ideas. Smartly leveraging the Nike+ APIs, Nike+ mobile SDKs and Nike+ FuelBand Dev Kit, they are set up to find the next great startup built on top of their platform.
Nothing is all that ‘new’ in either program, both are using well-established techniques, on both the technology and business sides, but it’s worth noting these efforts for the scale of companies involved and for the newer territories they hope to colonize: cars and wearable computing.
It’s important to note though that such advances are bringing back manufacturing, not necessarily jobs, or at least they bring back much fewer jobs. New smaller players can now use automation but, by and large, those jobs don’t exist anymore and can’t be brought back along with the assembly process.